Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

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Feature

BILLY DAVIDSON: TO SOUTHPORT AND BACK.

BILLY DAVIDSON
BILLY DAVIDSON

While the recent 42nd Southport Weekender may have sold out in record time with punters coming from all corners of the globe.

People came from (Iraq; Australia; Japan; USA; Canada; Israel; Spain; Holland; Belgium; Croatia; and Greece, to name just a few), it was nevertheless for some also an event tinged with sadness. Following the announcement by long-standing resident DJ Billy Davidson (who`s appeared at every weekender instigated by Southport co-founder/top-man Alex Lowes) that this Southport was going to be his last.

Having started out in the early Seventies as a devoted soul punter who`d regularly hitch-hike over 700 miles from his native Aberdeen to dance at legendary venues like Wigan Casino and Blackpool Mecca, Billy first began DJing around 1979 after discovering his own record collection was already superior to many of the DJs he was paying to see. Since which time he has made his presence felt across the world through his ongoing passion and support of soulful dance music. Having arrived on-site in time to catch Billy`s Saturday afternoon slot at a packed-to-the- rafters Beat Bar, `B&Sâ meets up with a chatty Mr. Davidson in the relative peace and serenity of Southport`s VIP room immediately after his fanatically-well-received set. First topic on the agenda being that windy weekend at a caravan-park in Berwick 21 years ago that marked the birth of what would eventually become acknowledged internationally as âEurope`s best loved indoor soulful music festivalâ - aka The Southport Weekender.

âBerwick was difficult, because we were living in caravans,â begins Billy over a welcome late-afternoon pint: âI think it was only about 400 people who turned up. And I`ll always remember that I was literally on the way to play my set, we walked out the caravan, it was pissing with rain, and my wife dropped my record-case - all my seven-inch singles - into the mud! So I had to go and wash every one of them before I went on! But the fact is we did have Ronnie McNeir performing live, which I recorded. In fact, I gave that recording to Alex (Lowes) a couple of weeks ago, and he couldn`t believe I had this TDK tape from 1987 of Ronnie McNeir performing at Berwick! It totally flipped him out! So overall it was a fabulous, fabulous weekend. But, at the same time, I never dreamed for ONE MINUTE that it would ignite what we have here at Southport today! All I thought at the time was that they`d given us a great opportunity to play some good music.â

Meanwhile, 21 years of playing at UpNorth Promotions weekenders has led to Billy witnessing some interesting changes: âSouthport was essentially a SOUL Weekender at the beginning. Very focused on Seventies soul music, and I was very much one of the culprits that PLAYED that. And the fact is we did, at the time, make that music very, very large - to the point of people issuing compilations and so on. But then what happened was the MUSIC ITSELF changed. It moved into street soul, new jack swing, house music... And what I`ve seen is how Southport has always embraced the changes, but always from a MUSICAL standpoint. It`s never been about `This is the new big thing`, but always about `This is the FINEST MUSICAL side of it`. And what that`s meant is that - bizarrely - the punters themselves haven`t really changed that much! Like there was a couple that came up and saw me onstage this afternoon who missed the first one or two weekenders, but have gone to every one since. And the fact they`re now into house music shows to me how so many people have just grown up with this whole thing. You know, we started in one musical era, we`ve listened to and embraced the changes, and moved on with it all.â

Predictably, among 42 Southport Weekenders, Billy holds many great - as well as a few bad - memories: âOne of my best memories is sitting in what at the time was The Soul Room - which is now The Funkbase - when The Dramatics, some of my all-time soul heroes, were doing a test-run. So it was just me sitting alone in the middle of the dancefloor with a six-pack of beer watching The Dramatics singing exclusively to ME! I also particularly remember the first time The Sounds Of Blackness played Southport with a 40-strong gospel choir on the Saturday afternoon. I had a girl DJ who`d come with me from Aberdeen. And the whole thing was so emotional that she was actually weeping in my arms as they were singing. Then, on the bad side, I`d have to recall the time I got booed! At the time I was still very much a soul DJ. But, because I was changing slightly, I introduced a couple of soulful house tracks - Mass Order`s `Take Me Away` and Lenny Williams` `A Whole Lot Of Love` - into my set. And people stopped dancing completely, because they didn`t want the introduction of that music into the soul scene. But the good thing for me was, because of that, Alex decided to move me into another room. Which is when the late-night soulful house session started. So ultimately I benefited, and the PEOPLE benefited! And, bizarrely enough, both those records are now acknowledged as soulful classics!â

So why has Billy made the decision to retire now? âThe main thing for me is the fact I`ve played for 21 years here, and it takes a lot out of you. I mean, if you look at me right now, I`m absolutely soaking wet from DJing! People don`t realise the amount of energy and effort it takes just to do that, not to mention the preparation beforehand. And, having now reached 50, I`m re-evaluating what I`m doing. While I feel at the moment I still am at the top of my game, I don`t know how long that will go on for - particularly with my hearing now being damaged. So, because one thing I`ve always promoted is bringing new blood onto the scene, I feel it`s time for me to pass on the torch to the next generation. You know, why not be in control of my own destiny and retire now - while it`s my choice - rather than have the event decide FOR me? So while yes, I will still DJ at smaller events, I won`t be doing it any more HERE. With Southport being a world-class event, there`s a lot of pressure that goes along with holding such a responsibility. And I just feel it`s time for someone else to step in and give it the attention it needs.â

Billy plays at The Blue Note, Todmorden on Saturday, June 28
Words PETE LEWIS

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